I have a big secret to share with you. I know, that once I tell you, it won’t be a secret anymore, but that’s okay. About a month ago, my husband took me out to dinner to a fancy restaurant for my birthday. There, he ordered mussels for an appetizer. As always, he asked if I wanted to try it, to which I reluctantly agreed. Here’s a kicker – I LOVED it. So here’s the secret, I have never, ever, ever had mussels before. I eat seafood such as shrimp and fish, but I have never been a big fan of clams, oysters, or mussels. However, curiosity got to me and I wanted to try them. Needless to say, over the weekend we went to the market and guess what I bought? Mussels!!!! Three pounds of wild-caught mussels. Once we brought them home, I was unsure of what to do with them. I researched different recipes and came up with my own fusion. If you have never cooked mussels before, there are few things you should know – I didn’t know ANY of this stuff until a few days ago myself. So take careful mental notes, this can either enhance or destroy – okay maybe not destroy, but can hinder your dish.
Note #1: When you bring mussels home, you need to “debeard” them. Huh??? Yeah, that was my first reaction too. You see, mussels have this little “beard” sticking out of the shell, they use it to attach themselves to rocks or whatnot. And although you can cook mussels with the beards in tact, they are not very palatable, so it’s best to remove them. Just yank them out with your fingers. Important – not all of the mussels will have the “beards”.
Note #2: If you are not cooking mussels the same day you bought them (although they should be cooked the same day or the next day at the latest), you should store them in the fridge covered with a damp kitchen towel. Many people place ice over them – which will eventually melt leaving the mussels floating in water causing the mussels to die. To prevent that from happening, clean the mussels, place in a bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. This will keep them moist, since the fridge is a dry cold place.
Note #3: If you see opened mussels, discard them. If they opened before they are cooked, it means they are no longer edible, and eating them can cause serious gastrointestinal problems, so it’s best to get rid of them. Sometimes the mussels open up due to temperature change, but there is a way to test and see if they are alive. Just tap the mussels on the counter and if they don’t close in a second or two, that means they are bad, so throw them out.
Note #4: When mussels are cooked, be sure to find those that did not open up and discard them, you don’t want to consume those.
Alright on to the recipe!
Yield: 2 servings
- 3 pounds Wild-caught Mussels*
- 1/3 cup All-purpose Flour
- 2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 cup Shallots (5 to 7 shallots), chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Garlic (5 to 6 cloves), minced
- 1/2 cup (or 4 ounces) Canned Plum Tomatoes, drained, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon Saffron threads
- 1/3 cup Flat-leaf Parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon Fresh Thyme
- 1 cup White Wine or Chicken Stock
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Crusty, grilled bread for dipping, garnish
Cleaning the Mussels:
Place mussels in a large bowl with 8 cups of water and the flour and soak for 30 minutes, or until the mussels release any sand. Drain the mussels, then remove the “beard” from each with your fingers. If they’re dirty, scrub the mussels with a brush under running water. Discard any mussels whose shells aren’t tightly shut.
Cooking the Mussels:
In a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the tomatoes, saffron, parsley, thyme, wine (or stock), salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.
Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot, and cook over medium heat for 7-9 minutes, until all the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open). With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice to be sure the mussels don’t burn on the bottom.
While the mussels are cooking, slice Ciabatta bread, butter both sides, and place on a grill or in a hot skillet, toast both sides.
Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl, arrange toasted bread pieces around the bowl and serve hot.
* Seafood Warning
Consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish may substantially increase the risk of foodborne illness.